Kelly Dwyer told you earlier today about how displeased Doc Rivers was with his "too cool" Boston Celtics after they suffered a 93-86 road defeat to the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls on Thursday night. For large swaths of the contest, though, it was Tom Thibodeau's team that was playing in a way that looked like it'd drive its coach crazy.
Chicago went into halftime down 11 points to a game Boston squad that was getting strong performances from the likes of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. They were a changed team in the second half, though, outscoring Boston by 18 in the third and fourth quarters, which is exactly the amount that Luol Deng scored over the course of the final 24 minutes to finish with a game-high 26.
After the game, Bulls center Joakim Noah talked about Deng rallying the troops at halftime, when the University of Florida product saw his teammates sitting there with looks on their faces that he did not enjoy at all. From Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com:
"We were kind of a quiet locker room and Lu just told us, 'We need to just start having fun out there.' I felt like we were just going through the motions a little bit and we just played more inspired and a lot hungrier basketball in the second half," said Noah. "Our energy in the second half overwhelmed them."
"Everybody in the first half, we all played with our heads down. Basketball is a game of momentum, changes and when things aren't going our way, our mentality has to be, 'We have to fix this, fast.' We can't play with our heads down and have the 'poo-poo face,' you know? Can't have the 'poo-poo face.' Sometimes we play with the 'poo-poo face.' We can't have the 'poo-poo face,'" he continued.
In some brighter alternate reality, Noah never stopped saying "poo-poo face," continuing on into infinity, making the world an immeasurably better place.
While I do not doubt Sam's reporting, it is important to note that there was some dispute in the media room late Thursday night as to whether Noah said "poo-poo face" or "poopy face." I am sure that every reporter dutifully went back to his or her respective recorders and quote sheets to double- and triple-check this, in the interest of accurately characterizing a very important bit of language, but either way, it's still one of the great quotes of this NBA season. Long may it be repeated in Joakim Noah folklore, chanted in full throat at the Madhouse on Madison and seared into the memories of Noah's teammates.
Jokes aside for a moment, Noah's larger point — that a lackadaisical Bulls team not focusing on speed and ferocity is a Bulls team in trouble — is spot-on.
Chicago has built its best-in-the-league record largely on excellence in areas marked by hustle, energy and intensity — they're the best rebounding team in the league (tops on the offensive glass, No. 2 on the other end, most total rebounds overall), they're third in the league in defensive efficiency (number of points allowed per 100 possessions), they hold opponents to the NBA's fourth-lowest field-goal percentage, they're 10th in the league in fast-break points, and so on. The hard-work elements of the game are their calling card.
They're a talented team, no doubt — given how much credit they get for their defense, their improved offense (fourth in offensive efficiency this year after an 11th-place finish a season ago) probably gets short shrift — but with the exception of the moments when a healthy Derrick Rose creates something magical one-on-one, they're not a team that will succeed solely on individual brilliance. They have to push, hard, harder than you, all the time, until you keel over. That they've done so to the tune of 114 wins in 164 games over the past two seasons (including playoffs) is a testament to Thibodeau, his staff and his stars, including Deng and Noah, on whom Thibs can rely to stoke the fires when the coals start to cool a bit.
By, say, reminding everyone in the locker room that they need to have fun. And also that they need to not play with the poo-poo face. That's just science.